King Might Turn to Ballot To End Crisis

As elected parliamentarians prepared for today’s opening session of the National Assembly, King Norodom Sihanouk on Sunday said he will request a national referendum on whether to amend the Constitution if the political deadlock persists.

“If this ‘deadlock’ alias ‘political impasse’ lasts some months further, I will ask our sovereign people to consider a popular and national referendum with the purpose of modifying ‘a little’ our 1993 Constitution,” King Sihanouk wrote in a message posted on his Web site.

An amendment to the Constitution would allow the president and two vice presidents of the National Assembly, as well as the prime minister, to be elected by a simple majority—or 50 percent plus one—vote in the parliament, the King said.

Currently, the Constitution requires these positions to

be approved by at least two-

thirds of the members of parliament.

Although the CPP won 73 of the 123 Assembly seats in the July 27 general elections, it is nine seats short of the two-thirds majority needed to establish a government alone. The CPP’s dispute with Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party’s Alliance of Democrats has delayed the formation of a new government and Assembly for more than four months.

And though CPP parliamentary dean, Chea Soth, is scheduled to convene the Assembly this morning, officials say the session will be largely ceremonial, as the issue of Assembly leadership and government positions remain unresolved.

“The harmful consequences of this desperate and dishonorable ‘deadlock’ alias ‘standoff’ alias ‘impasse or ‘political crisis’ are multiple in so much as on the national plan as on the international plan,” King Sihanouk wrote.

He added that even UN human rights envoy to Cambodia Peter Leuprecht, who was in the country last week, “ends up finding unacceptable this ‘deadlock’ alias ‘standoff.’”

He suggested that Cambodia’s “extremely rich donors,” who have supported the past two terms of government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, could fund the referendum. If held, it would be the country’s first national referendum.

“The idea of such a popular and national referendum isn’t peculiar,” King Sihanouk said. “These extremely rich ‘donors’ who give such aid to the successive [governments] of Samdech Hun Sen…should finance this referendum for the survival, the salvation of a Cambodia whose suicidal tendency is known only too well.”

He added that if an amendment is made, “the ‘minority’ parties will constitute the opposition against” the government, contrary to a Nov 5 agreement by the three main parties to form a government together.

Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng declined to comment on the King’s suggestion for a referendum on Sunday.

But he said, “I hope the King will continue to be a referee to push the political parties [to form the government] without delay.”

Though Om Yentieng said the internal regulations of the Assembly and leadership vote would not likely be discussed at today’s parliamentary session, he said the meeting would grant validity to the new lawmakers.

Despite having been sworn into the Assembly during a ceremony at the Royal Palace on Oct 4, it remains unclear whether the newly elected lawmakers have yet been granted parliamentary immunity.

Om Yentieng on Sunday also criticized Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, blaming him for ignoring his supporters. Prince Ranariddh has been absent from Cambodia for more than a month and is reportedly in France, though Funcinpec officials have not disclosed when he will return.

“The prince’s absence doesn’t show he is optimistic to the voters who voted for him,” Om Yentieng said.

Earlier this month, Hun Sen had urged Prince Ranariddh to come back to solve the political dispute.

“Prince Norodom Ranariddh leaves without a shadow. I hope the prince will come back to solve the problems,” Hun Sen had said in a televised speech on Dec 6.

At a meeting of Alliance parliamentarians on Sunday, Funcinpec Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh told reporters Prince Ranariddh would not be back for today’s session.

He said the party president’s absence was part of Funcinpec’s strategy to avoid a repeat of the post-1993 and 1998 election deadlocks, which eventually saw Funcinpec compromise with the CPP to create successive two-party coalition governments.

“We don’t want to have any problems like in 1993 and 1998,” Prince Sirivudh said, though he added Prince Ranariddh would return “in the near future.”

He and opposition leader Sam Rainsy also declined to comment on the King’s proposal.

But, Prince Sirivudh said the Alliance would stand firm on its decision to push for a three-party government, adding that he hoped the dispute would be resolved soon.

Meanwhile, Sam Rainsy said he hoped the two tripartite task forces, which were created to negotiate the formation of the government and the Assembly, would meet on Tuesday and Wednesday, immediately following the parliament’s opening. Om Yentieng did not confirm whether the CPP would join those meetings.

Most of the 50 Alliance parliamentarians gathered at the Sam Rainsy Party headquarters Sunday morning in preparation for today’s Assembly session. The meeting was held under tight security as more than 50 guards patrolled inside and outside the party’s headquarters.

The lawmakers reaffirmed they would not accept a “package deal” to hold a simultaneous vote on the parliamentary and government leadership, as CPP officials promoted earlier this month.


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